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The Prime Of The Ancient Mariner
Jack McCallum
May 17, 1982
Seattle's Gaylord Perry is the first pitcher in 19 years to win 300 games and, at 43, the oldest in history
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May 17, 1982

The Prime Of The Ancient Mariner

Seattle's Gaylord Perry is the first pitcher in 19 years to win 300 games and, at 43, the oldest in history

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Victory No. 300 was like so many others in his 20-year career: a mixture of guile and guts, the combination that will carry Gaylord Perry into the Hall of Fame. He gave up a home run, then got the next three outs on three pitches. He loaded the bases in the eighth, then got the cleanup hitter on an 0-2 fastball. He gave up nine hits, but breezed through a 1-2-3 ninth.

And when the game ended last Thursday night in the Seattle Kingdome—on Willie Randolph's grounder to second that produced the final out of a 7-3 Mariner victory over the Yankees—it didn't matter whether the historic pitch was loaded with perspiration, saliva, resin or K-Y jelly. It mattered only that Gaylord Jackson Perry had become one of just 15 pitchers in the 107-year history of major league baseball to get 300 wins. Seven of those pitchers did most of their winning before the turn of the century, about the time the infant Perry was caught with Vaseline on his rattle. Perry is the first pitcher since Early Wynn on July 13, 1963, to reach 300, and only Perry, Wynn and Warren Spahn have won 300 in the last 40 years.

At age 43 years and eight months, Perry is the oldest to win 300. Kid Nichols, 30, was the youngest, in 1900. It took Perry the most games—721, compared to three early pitchers who did it in fewer than 500 games. And having worn seven different uniforms, five since 1979, Perry is also the most traveled. But he didn't get to the summit of Three Hundred Mountain and quit. He has his eye on another peak. With 3,368 strikeouts, he's 140 behind Walter Johnson's record.

To best appreciate the grandeur of Three Hundred Mountain, one must consider who hasn't or likely won't climb it. Among current pitchers, only Steve Carlton, with 265 wins at week's end, and Tom Seaver, with 260, have good shots, and they're both 37. One who probably won't make it, Ferguson Jenkins, 266, sent Perry a telegram that said CONGRATULATIONS, YOU OLD GOAT.

While clearly it takes more than good stuff, good control and good teams behind you to climb Three Hundred Mountain, Perry offered only the standard explanations: He stays in shape, he's blessed with a strong arm, he thinks positively, etc. "Tenacity!" says his wife, Blanche. "That's what he has." His daughter, Amy, may have it figured out best. "He just wants to be king of the hill all the time," she says.

A mere 27,369 fans were in the 59,438-seat Kingdome to witness Perry's historic victory. Two games later the Mariners drew 36,716 for Funny Nose Glasses Night. But then Perry has never asked for the spotlight, and, obligingly, baseball has never turned it on him, unless it was to undress him on the mound or examine the baseball for foreign substances. He had to sell himself this season to get a chance to pitch, as he did last year with the Atlanta Braves. He's giving good value. At week's end Perry had a 3-2 record, three complete games (he was one out short of another), 32 strikeouts (tied for third in the American League) and a 3.59 ERA.

It was on Oct. 5, 1981 that Atlanta handed Perry his release. With an 8-9 record and a 3.93 ERA, he was a mediocre pitcher on a mediocre team, but, understandably. Perry believed he deserved a shot at the three victories he needed to reach 300. Atlanta thought otherwise, and Perry and his agent, Alan Hendricks of Houston, began making phone calls. Blanche began to worry. "We had been through this whole thing before," she says. "I'd think, 'Where's your pride?' " Perry's pride was in his arm, which was still strong, and his will, which is beyond strong.

But after 40, even players who take care of themselves, as Perry does, can go into a steep decline. Another strike against Perry was his reputation for being a needier of young players and a clubhouse lawyer.

One of the calls Perry made himself, in early February, was to Dan O'Brien, the Mariners' president and general manager, who was G.M. during Perry's first 2� seasons with Texas. At first O'Brien kept the conversation to himself because Seattle was in the midst of a much-publicized "youth movement," and there was no room for an aging arm. Particularly on a pitcher who would probably say embarrassing things about the team's youthful defense.

"Let's not deny the fact that Perry would get us some attention," says O'Brien. "We're a long way from everywhere up here and, dammit, we need something. Plus, our biggest winner last year [ Floyd Bannister] had only nine wins. I honestly thought Perry could help us."

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